Tag Archives: Ireland

Winter Wonderland

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Winter Wonderland

Meteorologists tell us that last night was the coldest night of our winter so far, with temperatures plummeting to -7.  There is no increase in temperatures in sight.

Most of the country has recovered from recent snowfalls, but up here in Mullyash, we seem to enjoy a micro-climate all our own.  Rarely is the weather the same at home, as it is just ten minutes’ drive away in my nearest town of Castleblayney.  While the snow down in town is long gone, with daytime temperatures not rising much above zero, ours is still stretched out in a virgin sea of white.

I am always saying how lucky I feel to have found my old derelict forge some ten years ago, and how inspiring it is, to have views from the highest point in Co Monaghan over the whole county, as well as over Co Cavan and beyond.

This morning, when I went out to feed my hens, and bring them fresh water as their dish had frozen solid, I smiled to see the evidence of some other residents!

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Here you’ll see where a nice fat bird crossed the path of a passing hare. I wonder if they met and shared an early-morning chat?

The sun was shining so brightly that I could have used a pair of sunglasses.  The colours and the long shadows were fabulous. I can’t help but share the views I was treated to.  This is the beauty of my Ireland on a cold, winter’s day.

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Time Out!

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I stepped off the treadmill for a few days, and had a ball.  Ireland has so much to offer, and you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy it.

Every year I try to make it to the biggest event in rural Ireland’s calendar – the National Ploughing Championships.  Urbanites and sceptics listen up: this is an event for everyone!  Where else are you likely to see grown men and women, complete with coats, bags and boots, grab a partner and dance to live music at 11 in the morning?  There’s fashion shows, cookery exhibitions, crafts and artisan food, alongside every possible agricultural necessity, all expertly laid out on 800 acres of walkways.  And that’s all in addition to the ploughing itself.  Is it going too far to say it’s the highlight of my year?  I don’t think so – I just love it!

Not a great picture, but you can get some idea of the 80,000+ people who visit the show daily.

Not a great picture, but you can get some idea of the 80,000+ people who visit the show daily.

By the time you’ve walked all 800 acres, maybe more than once, and reached your car, you’re more than ready for that traditional Irish ‘tea and sandwiches’ before setting off on the road.

This year, we stayed over in Tullamore, and I’m delighted we did.  Next day, we went exploring one of Ireland’s hidden treasures: the somewhat eccentric Charleville Castle, just outside Tullamore.

This year will see it celebrate its 200th birthday - still young, in terms of castles!

This year Charleville Castle celebrates its 200th birthday – still young, in terms of castles!

After the guided tour, complete with details of the castle’s colourful past, and current ghosts, we headed for home.

Next day was busy, with Castleblayney’s 2nd Annual Fair Day underway.  A fantastic event, the town steps back in time, with shopkeepers and visitors alike arriving in traditional dress, and memories from yesteryear taking centre stage. Horses, goats, sheep, cattle and donkeys share the street with traditional crafts, vintage vehicles, old shop records, and street traders.  It’s a sight for sore eyes.

Bygone days in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan

Bygone days in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan

And finally, have a look at what I picked up at the Car Boot Sale in the wonderful Iontas Centre, in Castleblayney, on Saturday morning…

One of a pair of stained glass window panels.  Irresistible to me, naturally enough!

One of a pair of stained glass window panels. Irresistible to me, naturally enough!

The day ended with an 18th birthday party, which went on well into Sunday morning!  Any wonder it took me a while to get back onto that treadmill on Monday morning?!

 

 

Ireland’s Hidden Treasures

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I took a rare day off last week and headed off to the midlands.  We were off on one of our ‘wild goose chases’.  I love those days.  You leave home with a simple agenda, and you never know where the day will take you.

On this occasion, my man and I went off to collect something he’d spotted on Done Deal.  We’re easily entertained, and don’t need much of an excuse to gallivant.  We never stray too far from home, but are only looking for an excuse to break up a journey.

So into the centre of the country we headed, with only an idea of where we were supposed to end up.  For those of you who don’t know, the N52 is a road that traverses the midlands of Ireland from the Dundalk area in the north-east, right down through the centre to beyond Nenagh, in Co Tipperary.  It pre-dates the country’s many motorways, and if you’re not in a hurry, it’s not a bad way to travel through Ireland.

We were only going down as far as the town of Cloghan, Co Offaly.  But along the way, we stopped for lunch in Tyrrellspass Castle, in Co Westmeath.  What a fascinating discovery.  This is an ancient castle, dating back to the 1400s, that has been converted into a fabulous eatery.  It is privately owned, and was full to the brim of happy diners.  What a pleasure to see such a place thrive.

The other hidden treasure we discovered was Kilbeggan Distillery.  I’m not a great fan of whiskey, but you couldn’t fail to be impressed there.  For a small fee, you can take yourself on a tour of the distillery, armed with an information leaflet.  It takes you through every step of the distilling process, and takes you back generations at the same time.  You truly get a feeling for the many other feet that have climbed the steps before you as you walk through this living piece of history.

If this is what’s out there, on a simple day trip, it’s just a hint of all the places in our own back yard, just waiting to be explored.

Explore Ireland. It’s on my bucket list.

Dublin Showcase a Host of Irish Talent

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Just back from a trip to Dublin’s RDS, which annually invites Irish artists, craftspeople and fashion designers to showcase their work to buyers from all over the world.  This is a trade fair, not open to the general public, but it is instead an opportunity for wholesale buyers to see what is new and exciting in the creative arena here in Ireland, and to place their orders for the year ahead.

What a wonderful venue, and full to the brim of humbling talent.  As my friend, encaustic artist Niamh O’Connor, and I strolled round the stalls, we spoke to many of the exhibitors.  For some reason, my impression was that the majority of the stallholders were women, and it is, of course, wonderful to see women forge ahead in such exciting and creative fields.

There are several halls exhibiting the more established businesspeople, as well as up and coming artists.  Monaghan, where I’m from, was well represented, with batik artist Louise Loughman, weaver Liz Christy, Brenda McGinn of Busy Bee Ceramics, and fashion designer Helen Steele, all busy with buyers.

Silk painter and batik artist Louise Loughman, at Showcase 2013.

Silk painter and batik artist Louise Loughman, at Showcase 2013.

There really is something for every taste at Showcase.  Fashion is stunning, with a catwalk parade twice daily; there’s woodwork, stonework, sculpture, ceramics (check out Sarah McKenna and Ian Carty), visual art (Breda Marron and Patricia Murphy come to mind), textile art (my own favourites were Breda McNelis and Bernadette Fox), jewellery design, furniture design, home decor, giftware, soap and candle makers, and so much more.

My own special interest is, of course, in glass, and I wasn’t disappointed!  There was stained glass work, blown glass (check out the work of Kerry Crafted Glass – blown 100% recycled glass), and plenty of my medium, fused glass, on offer, with gorgeous work on display from artists Jonathan Ball, Louise Rice, and my own favourite Maura Whelan, amongst others!

If you can beg, borrow, or steal a pass, make it your business to check out Showcase in Dublin’s RDS … at the very least, you can look online at www.showcaseireland.com.  And don’t forget, it’s up to all of us to support these businesses, by buying local and buying handmade.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

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Things have been very busy for the last few weeks, with lots of glass to get ready for all the Christmas shops popping up around the country.

I’m delighted to have my handmade fused glass on sale in Galway’s ‘Granny Likes It’ on Abbeygate Street…now open!

You can always find it in the gorgeous Glasson Craft Gallery in Co. Westmeath, just outside Athlone.

And now, I’m thrilled to be included in Dublin’s newest retail outlet for quality Irish art and craft… the tasty Irish Design Selection in the Westbury Mall, off Grafton Street.

With so much making, baking and boxing going on, the studio became a very busy spot. Here’s a picture of my constant companion, and would-be helper, Pip the poodle!

Pip the Poodle

It’s a dog’s life!

Gur Cake comes to Monaghan

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I’m looking forward to displaying my hand made glass at this weekend’s Taste of Monaghan festival.  It’s a chance to combine my two great passions… my glass work, and of course, food!

I don’t know about you, but I know my own childhood memories are peppered with food associations.  Any other Dubs out there (that is, people from Dublin, Ireland), at least those of a certain vintage, will remember Gur Cake.  The name supposedly comes from the slang word ‘gurrier’ – a young Dublin rascal!  In fact, Gur Cake is the same as Chester Cake or Fruit Slice.

It was created long ago, and is cheap and easy to make.  I suspect it was developed to make something sweet and satisfying out of leftovers… with our current economic status, maybe this is the perfect time to bring it back, although it may never have gone away!

It’s hard to be specific with a recipe, as every bakery, and family, had their own take on Gur Cake.  At its simplest, it is a mixture of bread and fruit, baked in a roasting dish, between two layers of pastry.  When cool, it is cut into generous slabs, and is filling and satisfying!  Here’s how to go about it… experiment and find a recipe to suit yourselves!

Break up a small white loaf (or cake or brioche), stale is fine, in a bowl.  Add enough liquid to bind.  I used about a quarter pint of milk… but think of tea, espresso, perhaps a dollop of brandy, or Irish whisky! Add a beaten egg, 500g dried fruit, a cup of caster sugar, the grated rind and juice of a lemon, a teaspoon of mixed spice, a spoonful of treacle to give it its traditional dark colour, and mix it all up.

Roll out enough shortcrust pastry to cover the base of a deep, square baking dish, or roasting tray.  Spoon the gur filling on top, and cover with another layer of shortcrust pastry.  Prick the top with a fork, brush with beaten egg, and bake in a moderate oven (about 180C) for about 40 minutes.

When cool, dust with icing sugar if you’d like, cut into squares… and enjoy!  Serve it up to a Dub near you, and listen to them reminisce!

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A Little Bowl of Sunshine on a Wintery Day

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Any of you who really know me will know that I’m a BIG fan of the Irish lifestyle store, Avoca.  I love everything about Avoca, specially their Kilmacanogue store, and most especially the FOOD!

So here’s one of Avoca’s great recipes from their first cookbook: Tomato, Lentil & Orange Soup.  My only complaint about it, is that it doesn’t make enough soup to satisfy a family, so I usually triple the ingredients!

This soup is gorgeous, and simple to make.  It’s good enough for lunch, for dinner, for a special starter… it’s even good enough to cheer anyone up on this miserable, wet, wintery day!  Make it, and enjoy!

1 onion, peeled and chopped
50g butter
1 orange
1 garlic clove, peeled & crushed
400g can chopped tomatoes
50g red lentils
300ml vegetable stock

Gently cook the onion in the butter for 10 minutes without browning.  (Meanwhile, grate the zest from the orange, then peel it, and chop the flesh.)
Add the garlic to the pot, stir, then add the orange zest and orange pieces, along with the tomatoes, lentils and stock.  Stir the pot, bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked.  Stir from time to time, so the lentils don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

Puree in a blender, then reheat gently and season to taste.  You may need to add a little boiling water, as it gets pretty thick!

Dress with chopped fresh mint, if you have it, and serve, for instant warmth!

Tomato, Lentil & Orange Soup

A little bowl of sunshine for a winter’s day!